In Fabric Marianne Jean-BaptisteYear: 2018
Director(s): Peter Strickland
Writer(s): Peter Strickland
Region of Origin: UK
Rating: n/a
Color, 118 mins

Synopsis: Follows a cursed dress as it ruins the lives of those who possess it. (Source)

Wow, okay. I’m really at a loss for words with In Fabric, and I think that’s the highest possible compliment I can give it. Director Peter Strickland has made a career on the defiantly strange, but his latest really takes it next level. It prides itself on eccentricity, copious amounts of sleaze and oddball fits of humor. You really can’t neatly tie this one in a bow, but it does at times feel like the bastard, demon-possessed love child of Phantom Thread and Suspiria – except this one’s got an actual haunted dress at the root of its perverse pleasures. Despite its strangeness, it’s a beautiful experience from top to bottom. Bathed in vibrancy, Strickland’s irreverent direction coupled with a killer ensemble make us question every single thing we’re seeing on screen. Buckle up folks, this is a wild one.

The story begins with a woman named Shiela (Marianne Jean-Baptiste). Newly divorced and needing to start afresh, she visits a local department store during its annual winter sale. There, she’s met by an eerie saleswoman, Miss Luckmoore (Fatma Mohamed) who seems a bit… off. Speaking in unrelenting riddles, she coaxes Shiela into buying a special one-off. It’s a red dress that will fit her perfectly and give her the lift she craves. Shiela takes the plunge, but that’s just the beginning of her story. At the film’s midpoint, things take an even deeper turn into another direction.

Though there is a lot happening both above and below the surface, it’s the experience of it all that makes this one stand out. The film has no shortage of curious ideas and shocks. There’s a department store turning the townsfolk into consumer fiends and it may be run by a coven of satanists. After hours activities involve kinky rituals with bleeding mannequins. The enchanted dress in question seems to both bless and destroy those who it draws itself to. All of these things and more swirl and dance around a manic atmosphere of paranoia and sinister glee. Still, it’s the primal delight of profane sights that interests Strickland most. At the risk of ruining what’s in store, I’ll just say there are things in here that you’ve never could’ve even dreamed of. While the film purposefully keeps any answers at bay, the pitch-black laughs and grotesque gags more than justify a viewing. Needless to say, this ain’t a horror film for those looking for simple jump scares or perfunctory displays of evil.

In Fabric review Fatma MohamedStrickland’s brand of deadpan demands performers who can give themselves over fully, and the ensemble here is up to par. Kicking things off, Marianne Jean-Baptiste anchors a majority of the film, playing things straight and in a way that makes it all somehow relatable. She transcends the film’s lightheartedness in a way that captivates. Leo Bill’s Reg enters the picture when we least expect, spinning it around and taking everything to a new place. Stealing perhaps the entire film, though, is Fatma Mohamed’s Luckmoore. She carries the film’s most mystifying dialogue, selling garments as if the world depended on it – and always with a bit of existential awareness. Rounding things out, there are appearances by Gwendoline Christie, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Julian Barrat and Steve Oram add to the eclectic cast of characters.

Unlike almost any other film out there today, Strickland’s latest requires and even demands that we surrender ourselves to it fully. To fully enjoy it, you have to let its off-color insanity just wash over you. If you can do this, you’ll be treated to something that truly plays by its own rules and pushes its own warped limits of bad taste. For the first time in a long time, In Fabric’s laughs, terror and extravagant style inject the genre with a breath of fresh air, and it’s bound to both defy, bewilder and terrify and for some time to come.

SG